Tuesday, July 08, 2003

US 2 blog.

It's high summer now. I know this because I see fireflies at dusk. They only have a few weeks to glow, which coincide with summer's peak. Lilly and I were out cleaning out the car on Sunday evening -- I was cleaning, she was supervising -- and she commented on their presence: "I see light crickets, Daddy."

The crowning drive of the Wisconsin trip was along US 2. We didn't follow much of it, but what we did rolled through the green woodlands of the southern shore of Lake Superior, from the former iron-mining boomtown of Hurley to the former iron-ore transshipment port of Ashland, and then up the coast to Bayfield, a summer resort town. From there, we made it as far west as Cornucopia, Wisconsin, which is also reputedly the northernmost settlement in the state, though the Indian town of Red Cliff -- also on US 2 -- looks as far north on the maps.

If you ask me, a vacation isn't complete unless you visit at least one picturesque cemetery (Yuriko disagrees with this notion). Some miles west of Hurley on US 2, along a stretch of road with very little in the way of human artifacts except the road itself, and perhaps within the boundaries of the Bad River Indian Reservation, there was a sign promising a Scenic View.

I couldn't resist that, and indeed there was a view from a parking lot beside the road, northwest over Lake Superior, as far as the largest and southernmost of the Apostle Islands, Madeline Is. (the Apostles aren't named after individual apostles). It was a hazy day, so it wasn't a postcard sort of view, but it satisfied nevertheless. Far beyond the hills, the lake was vast and blue-gray, the island indistinct and remote.

Bonus extra: the Scenic View was right next to a cemetery. A middle-of-nowhere cemetery, set on sloping ground shaded by tall pines. Lilly and I went to investigate, leaving the Yuriko and Ann in the car (with the AC running) and crossing a small field. It was hot, and northern Wisconsin has a surprising number of flies buzzing around in July. I looked around for something that would give me the name of this place, but saw nothing. I did notice, curiously, that all the stones -- all of them, older and newer -- faced the same direction, more or less southeast. The direction of Jerusalem? More or less.

The oldest stones I saw were of two men who had been in the War Between the States -- small white stones, rounded at the top like military tombstones conventionally are, with some of the engraving identifiable, though the stones were so worn that the birth and death dates had been effaced. I took notes: John B. Lewis, Corporal, Co. K, First Wisconsin Infantry, Civil War; Charles O. McNeill, Co. C, 39th Wisconsin Infantry, Civil War. You could fill a whole moment wondering about their lives; boys, probably, gone south to fight, seeing God knows what horrors (or maybe just military tedium), surviving it all, and returning to anonymous lives near Lake Superior, where they now repose.

Further up US 2, as the road followed the Bayfield Peninsula, we passed through the Red Cliff Indian Reservation, which is inhabited by the Red Cliff Band of the Chippewa. It's a small reservation, hugging the coast of Lake Superior at that point, but not without a casino. And not without internal politics, since roadside signs told me that a tribal election was due soon (July 10, if I remember correctly). One Ray DePerry was up for re-election as Tribal Chair, and I took note of a number of other French-influenced names running for office. I understand that randy French trappers and traders figure prominently in the ancestry of the modern Chippewa.

We were too tired to go further than Cornucopia, though US 2 continues on to Duluth, and to Seattle for that matter. I pulled over at a small beach just outside of Cornucopia. Our experience with beaches on this trip was limited. In fact, this was the only one. Lake Superior seems a good deal less beach-friendly than Lake Michigan, where there may be dead alewife fish or high bacteria counts or bugs in the sand, but at least the water is warm in the summer. Both Lilly and Ann were both asleep at that moment -- mirabile dictu -- so first Yuriko and then I walked over to the beach, passing beach grass and crossing multitudes of pebbles, and encountering those damned swarms of flies.

I hadn't come this far just to look at the lake. So I took off my socks and shoes and stood in the water. It was like standing in snow, except the evidence of your eyes kept telling you that the water was liquid, and lapping gently over your feet. The air temp was about 90° F, the water temp maybe 40° or even 50° colder, so this was something of a disconnect. I took my feet out before they had a chance to go numb.


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